Orion schools to present reopening plan Aug 4

Mindy Carls
Orion High School

The public is invited to speak about the Orion school district’s return to school plan on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

With recommendations still in flux, the board decided Wednesday, July 21, to postpone action on the plan.

The special meeting on Aug. 4 will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Orion Middle School. For the most current guidance, visit https://orionschools.us/announcements/return_to_school_plan_information.

Superintendent Joe Blessman said the plan was made with advice from the school district’s attorney and the Henry County Office of Emergency Management.

The goal is to keep faculty, staff and students safe while presenting options, Blessman said. Designed to be flexible, the plan will change as conditions change.

Three parents spoke to the board about mask policy.

Chad Cox said wearing a mask makes it difficult for his son to benefit from working with a speech therapist because she cannot see his mouth. Cox asked the district to let parents make their own decisions about whether to mask their children.

Mickie Knox said 152 school districts have decided to make masks optional. Blessman noted the state has 800 school districts.

Knox supported letting parents make the decision about whether to have their children wear masks. All summer long, children have been going to activities without them.

Also, she said teachers should be able to make their own decisions about masks.

Hayley Voorhees asked about the roles of the OEM, the Centers for Disease Control, the Illinois School Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health in making decisions or giving recommendations about what the district should do.

Blessman said except for the requirement to have children on buses wear masks, school districts have local control in drafting their re-opening plans.

He said he chose Aug. 4 for the public meeting because all seven board members can be there. Blessman did not want a meeting with only six members whose vote could end in a tie.

Personnel changes

The board hired three persons to replace Alex Johnson at Orion High School. Larry Anderson will be the varsity boys basketball coach, Abby Thomsen will be the dean of students and Ethan “Mr. P” Podwojski will be the social studies teacher.

Rachel Bollinger was hired as a first-grade teacher at C.R. Hanna Elementary School.

Hired as coaches were Jeff Wiedenmann, cross country at Orion Middle School, and Lyndsey Haars, assistant volleyball coach at OHS.

Shelley Bird was hired as a four-hour cook at the high school.

Issuing bonds

Kendall King of Kings Financial spoke to the board about refinancing bonds issued in 2014 and callable in December 2022. The district uses the 1 percent facility sales tax to make payments on the bonds, and Blessman expressed some concern that interest rates could rise. King said after the callable date, the district will have $2.4 million left to pay off.

The refinancing could occur in September, when the district plans to issue $5.5 million in working cash bonds for facility upgrades, or the district could wait until Dec. 2022.

The facility sales tax will be used to repay the bonds, Blessman said. No property tax revenue will be used. Proceeds will go towards building an early learning center, providing secure entrances at the district buildings and renovating bathrooms and locker rooms.

Facility sales tax proceeds have been used for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at C.R. Hanna Elementary School and OHS, and for the Charger Field renovation and new bleachers and a new gym floor at OHS.